Chris Boeckerman, director of the GrowthWorks program at Proctor & Gamble, is a force for innovation in a company most people probably don’t naturally think of as “disruptive.” As she discusses with Eric Ries in The Leader’s Guide, large incumbents need to stay relevant and continuous innovation is the best defense against disruption. We don’t need to have a business as big as P&G’s to learn from their strategy.
Boeckerman told Ries that at P&G, “teams lead and leaders learn.” A product team can provide much more granular bottoms-up feedback than a top-down manager can assess on their own. Recognizing the need for information to drive innovation, they’ve embraced a philosophy where the leaders are expected to play the role of feedback gatherers who listen, disseminate information, and clear the path for projects.
If we only think top-down, we make the dangerous assumption that we can see everything that matters. When we approach a problem from the ground-up, by listening to those dealing with the smallest aspects of our product or service, we open ourselves up to new and shifting perspectives. If our goal is to not be disrupted, even if we just want to maintain relevance, we are going to need to combine the two. After leaders learn from their bottom-up information gathering they have to set the missions and objectives to drive forward progress. It’s a constant balancing act.
Boeckerman’s attitude and her division’s prominence inside P&G is a testament to the mindset required to maintain their many top brands. We may have the best product or service today, but what counts is staying on top tomorrow, the next day, and the next. Who we listen to and how we listen matters. Let the team lead and see what we can learn.